Resilience at work toolkit? Why do we need that? We spend a huge amount of our lives at work and yet often it’s cited as one of the major sources of stress. We know that the world is changing rapidly and frequently organisations and individuals are unable to keep up with that unprecedented pace of change. The result? Stress and burnout. Working for a Healthier Tomorrow the 2008 report authored by Dame Carol Black recognised business as a key player in promoting adult health and wellbeing. But still we lose an average of 17 million work days due to stress, anxiety and depression according to the Mental Health Foundation. The World Health Organisation has named stress as the ‘health epidemic of the 21st century’ The antidote? Resilience. Take a walk through our resilience at work toolkit where we examine what it is, the latest resilience research and how to develop more of the stuff. Step inside and we’ll show you how to keep calm and carry on.
What is cognitive reserve? It’s one of the key factors in brain resilience and the concept of cognitive reserve, or CR, is pivotal to the health of your brain. We take a deep dive into what it is and how you ca create more of it. Join us for a foray into cognitive fitness.
Unless you’ve taken a year long sabbatical and have been living on a remote island (lucky you) you’ll have heard of workplace resilience. Recognising that the world of work is in a constant state of flux, many organisations have implemented workplace resilience programmes. But how many of them have really been effective?
We’re living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world that continues to change at an unprecedented rate. Take a look around you, the world looks nothing like it did ten years ago. And if you had been asked to predict the socio – political upheavals of the last 12 months, well, I’ll bet that you couldn’t have (and if you had? we would have sat and laughed). The world is changing rapidly and we need to find a way to change with it. Whilst we know much about the importance of individual resilience and it’s impact upon performance, we often miss the uncomfortable truth that even resilient individuals will struggle to thrive in organisations that are designed to stifle rather than support.
Resilience: from the Latin word resilo – to jump back. The capacity to bounce back from adversity, adapt and succeed.
Embracing difficulty is key to resilience. But what is it? Resilience describes our ability to manage difficulties effectively rather than be overwhelmed when confronted by adversity. Perhaps one of the most profound definitions is from Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and author of ‘Man’s search for Meaning”. ‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.’ It comes as no surprise that Frankl’s work has been modified and applied in a workplace setting. An increasing body of research suggests that resilience is also a valuable predictor of success. Penn Professor, Angela Lee-Duckworth’s research suggests that resilience is an even more accurate predictor of success than IQ. A heady claim for something we’re not taught in school. So what’s is it about resilience that makes it such an important differentiator? Lets find out.
Glenn Richardson, Professor and chair, Department of Health Promotion and Education, University of Utah describes resilience as mental toughness and encourages employees to think differently about how they view difficulty. When met by challenge, Richardson suggests that we develop the mindful habit of taking a moment of calm to support ourselves in developing resilience, by making a choice to work with our emotions to accept failure and examine what we can learn from it. This presents a very different approach to turning away from difficulty to get the job done which employees are sometimes forced into doing by workplace pressures. Dr Gregg Steinberg suggests that challenge and adversity can develop emotional intelligence and grit, enabling people to bounce back to an even higher level of resilience than before. For Steinberg, adversity creates and shines a light upon what is missing in life, highlighting what we need to be more successful and happier. Watch Gregg talking about ‘Falling Up’ in our ’10 Best Resilience Videos’ blog. You might be asking yourself how you can turn towards difficulty or failure when your natural response is to turn away, run for the hills and avoid it. Resilience is a skill that can be learned and you can begin to work out your resiliency muscles right now. The next time you face adversity, try the following;
Embed calm checkpoints into your day.
Take a moment to notice what’s happening. Breathe and sit with what is there for you in that moment.
Known as ‘Affect Labelling’ this is where you identify the emotion. Try saying to yourself “Hello anxiety” if that’s what you’re feeling. Recognising and naming the emotion makes a distinction; you are experiencing anxiety rather than labeling yourself as an anxious person.
Work with what shows up.
As human beings we typically move towards what feels good and avoid what doesn’t, frequently missing what we feel neutral towards. Instead of moving toward the positive or trying to push difficult emotions away, bring a gentle curiosity to both. Notice your reaction without judging it. Reflect on the nuances of perceptions of positive, negative and neutral. Is there an associated response in the body? Tension or lightness? Bring mindful awareness to whatever arises.
It’s not Forever.
Recognising the impermanence of all emotions is key. Mindfulness teaches us that emotions are just mental events with a short life span. Ask yourself what you need in order to manage that emotion in this moment.
Reflect on what is really going on for you. Is there historical stuff or emotional baggage that has led to this emotion? Your response might be appropriate, now you’ve investigated you’re in a better position to choose how to respond effectively and skillfully.
Practice on a regular basis.
When you develop the capacity to face difficulty you are able to make more skillful choices. Mindful awareness of challenging situations gives us the opportunity to defuse difficult thoughts and emotions and create distance. With that distance we can choose our response rather than falling into habitual knee – jerk reactions.
Difficulty is part of life, it isn’t going anywhere soon but the good new is that resilience isn’t an absolute. Changing over time it can grow, be learned and developed. For more information on how to build your resilience check out our other blogs, our free ‘Build Your Resilience’ webinar or come to one of our resilience training courses, we’d love to see you there!
To find out more about building resilience or resilience training contact us at email@example.com
Profit? Loss? Return on investment? How about compassionate leadership as an organisational metric? We give you the skinny on why it might not be as counterintuitive as it sounds.
Working in a compassionate workplace impacts positively upon our levels of stress and ability to maintain resilience, reducing burnout (Figley 1995). The corollary of this is an improved ability to care for colleagues, direct reports and clients (Lilius et al. 2011). The impact of compassionate leadership also influences employees’ perception of their colleagues and the organisation generally. Suggesting compassion is good for business and for employees.
Lilius et al. (2011) found that when employees perceived that direct line managers were concerned about their wellbeing they reported feeling more engaged and happier at work. Employees were also less likely to leave the organisation resulting in a reduced staff turnover.
From Good To Great
Compassionate leaders have the ability to make workplaces more enjoyable and less stressful places to be. Fredrickson et al. 2000 found that when subjects experienced positive emotions their heart rate and blood pressure is lowered. Psychological distress was also observed to decrease. As Wallace Bachman’s (1988) military based research found, sometimes nice guys really do finish first. In ‘True North’ Bill George (2007) describes this compassionate leadership style as “transforming a workplace from ‘I’ to ‘We.’” Providing an environment where leaders leave behind the cut throat competition along with their ego’s to provide a workplace space were individuals are supported and developed by leaders. Collins (2001) describes this as what he considers a ‘Level 5’ leadership skill, consisting of motivation and humility. These leaders, Collins states move individuals, teams and organizations from ‘good to great.’
So are YOU a compassionate leader? Visit our resources page to find out more.
To find out more about compassionate leadership or compassion training contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ability to remain agile and flexible as a leader in what has been termed a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world is of paramount of importance in the current economic climate. Leaders and employees, it seems, work against a backdrop of uncertainty. The HSE Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain for 2015 make grim reading:
The total number of cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was 440,000 cases, a prevalence rate of 1380 per 100,000 workers.
The number of new cases was 234,000, an incidence rate of 740 per 100,000 workers.
2014/15 was 9.9 million days lost due to stress. This equated to an average of 23 days lost per case.
In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.
The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety (LFS, 2009/10-2011/12) were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
Stress isn’t going anywhere
Stress, is one factor of the modern workplace that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. It has always been part of the modern workplace, however, increasing levels of stress are something of a more recent phenomena. Whereas organizations are currently observing a general decrease in absenteeism (CIPD 2016) the continued rise in stress related absenteeism shows no sign of abatement. The age old tradition of ‘boss bashing’ and complaining to colleagues only serves to hinder and diminish our ability to bounce back from stressful events (Siber, 2005). Nietzsche’s claim that “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me strong” does not hold true for today’s workforce. If leaders are to remain agile in a VUCA world, we need a new solution.
Levi, 2000 EU Guidance on Work Related Stress defines resilience as “The ability to mitigate the effects of stress i.e. factors such as emotional, cognitive, physiological, behavioural responses to work, the work environment or the organisations”. Building organisational capacity to develop resilience is key for leaders to meet these challenges head on in such a turbulent landscape. But how to do it?
Develop your emotional intelligence.
Relationships are key and will keep you sane. Make sure you have a support network both in and outside of work. Get to know your department, your team, those around you. Find out what makes them tick and continue to build rapport with those around you.
Define your purpose.
Is your leadership your calling? Is this what you were put on the earth to do? Know why you are doing what you do every day, making sure your values are in alignment with your actions. Create your very own mission statement and live your values.
Make time to reflect.
Protect regular time to reflect upon how you operate as a leader and as an organisation. Use the time to reflect on where you are now and where you want to be, identifying the gap in the middle. Consider systems, processes and procedures, are they working? Can they be improved? Reflect upon what’s happening in your field internationally, who are the thought leaders? Is there an opportunity to partner with them or learn from new systems, processes or theories?
Don’t stop learning.
When you’re faced with leadership chaos, personal development is often the first thing to fall by the wayside. Make time to learn, keeping yourself ahead of the curve. It’s not wasted time, it’s an investment in yourself.
Embrace failure and learn from it. Ditch the blame game and focus instead on learning information – learn from what went wrong. What processes and procedures worked? What didn’t? How can you learn from them? What can you tweak, change or do differently next time? Failure is an opportunity to refine and remain agile. Use it and embed it in your culture.
To talk to us about resilient leadership, VUCA or anything else that takes your fancy, contact us at email@example.com
It’s all too familiar, with a seemingly endless ‘To do’ list it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. The overwhelming phenomenon of cognitive gridlock, feeling stressed at work pushes us to plough on when we should be taking a break. Greenspace doesn’t even enter into our day, we’re fast becoming factory farmed humans. Just a few minutes of time outdoors, chilling out with Mother Nature could be exactly what we need.
A recent Lexis Nexis survey of 1700 workers found that employees spend over 50% of their day processing information rather than concentrating on their designated role. When we’re spending our time sorting and sifting through information before we even get down to the real work, there’s no wonder we’re stressed.
A University of California Irvine study revealed that being exposed to constant emails throughout the day increased the heart rate of those studied. Michael Posner, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregan states that when we are in such states of continued focus, our brains become fatigued and less effective. As the pressure mounts it seems counter intuitive to take a break. Instead we labour under the misconception that the harder we work, the more effective we’ll be. Not so. The longer our brains are switched to ‘on’ mode, the slower we get. Downtime replenishes both our bodies and our minds. But not just any old break will do. Greenspace, it seems, could be the answer.
Dr Marc Berman at the University of Michigan found that after a twenty minute walk, memory and attention improved by 20%. A twenty minute walk in a busy street resulted in no improvement. It seems not all downtime is created equally. Berman’s research also found that just sitting for ten minutes in a quiet room, looking at pictures of nature had a calming effect producing an increase in cognitive activity and performance.
And if you’re feeling cranky at work as a result of all that information overload, it seems that nature can also improve your mood. A study from the University of Rochester by Richard Ryan discovered that viewing nature had social benefits. Ryan’s research found that 370 test subjects exposed to natural as opposed to man-made environments encouraged people to “Value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money.” Making it worth taking your boss along for a walk if you’re considering asking for a raise.
Dr Ian Frampton at Exeter University found that when research participants were shown pictures of rural scenery the regions of the brain associated with calm were activated. Pictures depicting urban scenes did not produce the same response. Suggesting that when you can’t escape to your favourite greenspace there’s still a viable alternative to increase your ROI for downtime.
Not sure how to inject more nature inspired downtime into your working day?
Here are our top tips.
1. Recognise that you deserve and need a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed remind yourself it will improve your performance (it won’t slow you down). Prioritise at least one time slot for natural downtime each day.
2. Go off grid. Switch off your electronic devices for the duration of your downtime for maximum impact.
3. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, find a green space nearby and take a quick walk or find a seat to take in the view.
4. Go green. Consider adding nature to your workspace. Think plants, pictures, photos or saved recordings for those times that you can’t physically get out into a natural environment, it’s the next best thing.
5. Unwind by journaling in nature. Find a balcony, garden or park and reflect. Jot down one or two lines about your day.
6. Shelve your mental ‘To do’ list and breathe. Sit in your greenspace, focus on the present moment listening to the sounds around you as you begin the relax. Spend time taking in the natural environment around you, really be in the moment as you sit and enjoy your green ‘me’ time.
At Positive Change Guru we work with individuals and organisations to build resilience and optimise performance. Check out our courses on the events page or contact us to talk about your training, consultancy or coaching needs.
What’s fuelling your burnout? Feeling exhausted? Perhaps even a little cynical where work is concerned? You could be suffering from burnout syndrome. A common response to stress, burnout is characterised by a variety of dimensions from fatigue, demotivation, frustration, cynicism and ultimately, reduced efficacy. So what, exactly, is fuelling your burnout?
The Beginnings Of Burnout
It isn’t a new phenomenon, Graham Greene wrote about it during the 60s in ‘A Burnout Case’ as a result the term was later coined in the context of employee burnout by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It’s firmly part and parcel of corporate landscape now with employees increasingly being asked to do more with less.
Montero Marin at the University of Zaragoza identified three types of burnout. In a study of 429 university workers in a variety of occupations ranging from administration to research, the study identified 3 separate subtypes;
What’s Your Type?
- Boredom. This type of stress stems from lack of challenge. When employees aren’t stretched they’re unable to get into a state of flow, or optimum performance, stifling their development and their motivation. If you find yourself using avoidance as a coping strategy and complaining about your organisation on a regular basis, the research suggests this could be your burnout type. Leaving you feeling like giving up. boredom is fuelling your burnout fire.
- Overload. This subtype is characterised by frenetic behaviour. You find yourself doing, doing, doing with a constant mental ‘To do’ list. Your coping strategy is to keep working until you’re exhausted in the belief that you’ll somehow make headway. You’re overloaded by stress and feel cynical due to the lack of support you receive. You may feel that your organisation is limiting you. Excessive workload is fuelling your burnout.
- Worn Out. In this subtype when you’re faced with stress, you give up. It’s all just too overwhelming. The will to achieve is there but you lack motivation to get started in the onslaught of stress. If this is your subtype you may feel badly let down by your organisation. You’ve simply had enough and that is fuelling your stress.
What’s Fuelling Your Organisation’s Risk of Burnout?
Now you know what’s fuelling your individual burnout, lets take a look at your organisation. Maslach, Schaufel and Leiter identified 6 organisational risk factors that increase the likelihood of burnout.
- Mismatch in workload
- Mismatch in control
- Lack of appropriate rewards
- Loss of sense of positive connection with others
- Perceived lack of fairness
- Conflict with values
If the causes of burnout are multi factorial, how can you begin to combat it?
If you’re a leader, the starting point is your organisational culture. Here’s our checklist to guide your stress audit;
- Do you have a wellbeing strategy?
- Do staff have a healthy approach to work life balance and is this modelled by your leadership team?
- Are your people micromanaged or given the autonomy to carry out their role?
- Do you model your values or is there a disconnect? Do you need to revisit your strategy, policies, procedures and actions?
If you’ve identified that you’re on the way to being stressed, find a way to reduce your stress levels by;
- Practising mindfulness (see our mindfulness resources on this site)
- Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions. Talk to your GP who will be able to recommend a therapist.
- Reflect upon whether your values are in alignment with your role. Is your current role what you feel drawn to as a profession or is something else calling you?
- Check your work – life balance is where you want it to be. If it isn’t take the necessary steps to address the areas that need work. Cut back on your hours, take lunch breaks and make sure you create time for friends, family and a life outside of work.
Flow, the model of performance introduced to Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is big news both in the workplace and outside of it. But what is it? Think of a time when you’ve been completely immersed in a task, when distractions were minimized and you lost sense of time and space. Got it? Well that’s flow. If you can answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions whilst undertaking a task, you’ve probably found yourself in flow;
- You’re doing it because you’re motivated
- You’re completely focused on the task
- You lose sense of time, hours feel like minutes
- You’re not worrying
- You have a sense of control
- You forget yourself
- You feel inspired
- You don’t really notice your surroundings
- You’re enjoying it and feel good as you get on with the task, you’re on a roll!
- You feel as though you’re achieving something
Csikszentmihalyi narrows it down to two characteristics that must be present for flow to occur:
- We should know what to do moment by moment whilst participating in the activity or task and utilise feedback instantly
- The abilities of the person undertaking the task match the opportunities for action
Put more simply, he describes it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from your previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”
Or, as Lyubmirsky describes it, “being involved in life” rather than being on autopilot.
Surprisingly, adults often report experiencing more flow in the workplace than in their personal life outside of work. This might have something to do with the parameters and guidelines around work, which you’ll see below, are a necessary part of creating more flow in life. But rest easy, flow is an essential element of happiness whether you’re at work or not and can be applied to friendships, relationships, projects, hobbies and sports.
Why does it matter?
Research suggests that people who feel flow experience greater levels of wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that each time you participate in a task you’ll feel euphoric and instant happiness (if only). Instead, studies suggest that after the task has been completed, people feel a sense of accomplishment, a greater subjective sense of wellbeing along with purpose and meaning. All ingredients of happiness and flourishing according to Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of Positive Psychology. Csikszentmihalyi says it’s one of the secrets to finding happiness in life. In our book that makes creating flow worth a go.
To introduce more flow experiences into your day to day activities, Csikszentmihalyi recommends the following in his book, ‘Finding Flow”.
- Seek out situations where you’re fully involved in the challenge. It’s not too easy for you and there is some ‘stretch’ involved in the task for you, you’re pushing yourself outside of a comfortable level of performance.
- The activity has a set of goals and requires certain actions. The rules help you get into flow because you’re not wondering how to do something. It’s clear.
- Learn to focus your attention. Train yourself to focus on moment to moment awareness so you’re able to concentrate fully. Try practicing mindfulness to hone this skill.
- Apply flow to routine tasks. Lyubmirsky suggests ‘microflow’ experiences created by applying goals and rules to everyday tasks. See how you can apply these to something you do every day, for example, creating a personal best time for completing your administrative tasks or seeing if you can bring your full attention to a conversation.
- Aim for superflow. This is when you’re in maximum flow with the volume turned up. You’ll get there with practice, from small microflow projects, to practicing your moment-to-moment awareness on a regular basis. That’s you rewiring your brain and honing your skills until you’re able to move into superflow with ease.
With a little bit of practice and effort, flow is something that, when cultivated will pay dividends in your wellbeing and happiness. Want to find out more about flow? Here’s the man himself at TedX Monterey, California https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
We love to talk about all things positive psychology at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke positive psychology training for your organisation.